First, I would not like to criticize anyone here, I am just curious how the community feels about it. This is also related to: Accepting answered questions difficult.

It happens (at the time of writing, for example here and here; there are others, but I didn't want to drag anyone else into this) that the accepted answers are not the most upvoted answers. StackExchange has even a badge about it, and it's fine at sites like math.SE where there is some objective content (i.e. any correct answer would do).

However, ME.SE is much more opinion-based and anecdotal-evidence-based, therefore the votes might carry an additional meaning. For example, I don't have enough teaching experience to claim my methods/opinions any good compared to some other users of ME.SE, and the answer being accepted might give a false impression.

There are also secondary considerations, like: if the votes come from (experienced) math educators or is it from general audience; the votes are highly biased, e.g. because of the timing, that is, early answers get more votes. However, I wouldn't like to derail the discussion.

What do you think, is it good to accept a non-most-upvoted answer?

  • $\begingroup$ The first question dtldarek links to was asked by me, and answered by him. If I recall correctly, the two top answers had the same number of upvotes when I accepted one. I chose dtldarek's answer because it seemed more primary, i.e. brendansullivan07's answer seemed to be phrased as a sequel to dtldarek's. $\endgroup$
    – Jim Belk
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 21:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You have touched on an interesting question about the nature of the discussion on a site like this. There is an important role for sharing "anecdotes" (i.e. experience) because it gives us a glimpse of some lived experiences of teaching mathematics. It's very descriptive. But anything more analytical requires some (social scientific) method. These are two different and valuable types of contributions. $\endgroup$
    – JPBurke
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 12:43

4 Answers 4


Accepting an answer says “This answer works/worked for me” or “This answer was most helpful to me” (see also here). Ideally, the highest-voted answer best answers the question as written. Going from this, the accepted and highest-voted answers might not and should not coincide in some cases:

  • Questions can not and should not be 100 % specific to your problem. This is because questions should be of general interest and you cannot possibly describe all the details of your situation. Therefore some answer might be the best solution to your actual problem despite being not the best answer to the question.
  • The problem behind the question allows for testing and evaluating several answers (e.g., Redundant Zeros). In such a situation, you can accept the answer that actually solved your problem (e.g., by convincing the student).

Apart from this, you may not agree with the community about what the best answer is. Also, let’s not forget the unavoidable biases in the voting system.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with accepting an answer other than the highest-voted one. After all, though answers should be for a general audience, they also should help you and being accepted is the reward for being best at that – while upvotes are the reward for best answering the question as written.

That being said, if you are accepting an answer that has received significantly less votes than another, I think that you should leave a comment to explain your choice to future readers, especially those having a similar problem.

  • $\begingroup$ Though, according to one school of thought, comments should all be deleted within a few weeks. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 8:31

I think, it's nothing bad to have accepted answers not being the top-voted. Until now I saw some similar examples like you did, but overall I would agree with almost all acceptet answers - They are all of good quality (For some I would have selected an other answer, but I am also fine with the selected one).

A few examples where your scenario can happen and I am totally fine with it:

  • Sometimes, a really good answer comes in just after you accept an other.
  • Sometimes, you think a fairly new answer answers really good your question and you want to accept it, but since the question is older, the answer does not gain too much votes.
  • In particular in questions where examples are asked, many answers are very good and the one asking picks maybe the answer he/she think fits best to the given question.
  • Even if an answer is well written and has references, maybe an answer which seems to be not that good from an objective point of view can help more, since not the whole scenario asked in the question was revealed (this is never possible in a fully way! - But the asker will know what helped him/her most in that case).
  • Sometimes (e.g., in your first example), the difference is really slightly and could change all over the time.
  • In cases where one selects an accepted answer too soon, everything can happen with the votes. As it was pointed out in Accepting answered questions difficult, the suggestion is to wait a little time to select an answer to avoid that case.
  • $\begingroup$ Could you provide example scenarios which you would not be fine with? $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ @dtldarek Good question! Obviously when the quality is very low or if there is a pattern that two people are accepting mutually their answers. -- There is one question here (matheducators.stackexchange.com/q/148/114)where I could not say which solution is best since many answer contain a mixture of some arguments and others have one idea more isolated. If you disagree with a few concepts from someone's answer, you would not mark that answer accepted. On the other hand, isolated ideas are contained in bigger answers. In such cases it is very difficult. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Your first point does not really apply, as you can switch accepted answers (at any time, if I am not mistaken). $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 22:00

(I'll respond using some of my own answers since I am most familiar with them...)

I was admittedly skeptical at the answer selection in the latter link; but I have an obvious bias, since my answer was the top-voted at the time of decision. Still, I cannot object: this is a choice up to the OP.

In addition, I must note that another answer of mine was selected despite being ranked second. Again, I am biased insofar as it was my own answer, but I felt the lengthy write-up and details warranted its choice; also, I think the answer with more votes at the time of selection had simply been posted for longer, hence the higher vote-count.

Subsequently, another answer of mine was accepted despite its not having the highest vote-count. As the OP comments: Thanks! I think Jim [Belk]'s answer is the most fascinating and interesting, but I'm accepting this one as the one that best answers the question. So that seems like a good reason.

With regard to reputation, the answer selection is not too important: it gives a +15, which is equivalent to 1.5 up-votes. The more notable piece, from my perspective, is that it bumps the selected answer up to the top of the choices (even when organizing by "votes"). In this respect, I think we need not to worry about how the OP chooses the "best" answer, but rather to keep in mind that, when reading a thread with multiple answers, it is important to look them all over.


If votes controlled 'accepted' answer, SE could algorithmically choose best answer.

  • First answer to reach X upvotes.
  • If X votes not reached in Y days, answer over Z votes (some lower number) gets accepted.

It's not done this way, and left up to the OP to make a decision. The criteria for choosing is a suggestion, but in the end, it's the OP who needs to choose the answer s/he 'feels' is best.

I've had answers on various boards here not chosen when I thought they were worthy, but saw that the 'accepted' response had merit and probably struck the OP a certain way.

On the regular math site - https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/752631/probability-equation-that-i-am-missing-here/752643?noredirect=1#comment1566717_752643 I had 3 votes vs 1 that was accepted. But I see that the accepted answer offered an equation, as mine, a visual. No hard feelings. Too much activity to ponder this for too long.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .